My neighbor has stage four breast cancer.
She could have caught it earlier, had she been brave enough to undergo a routine breast cancer screening.
I don’t know what the future holds for her, but I know that in her past, she often avoided medical treatments like pap-smears and breast cancer screenings because she was too embarrassed. She doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“There’s nothing modest about breast cancer treatment,” she says.
Another sister in the community has paid a similar price for neglecting her health. A lifetime of rich foods and too little exercise left her breathless and sweating on her kitchen floor, one of the millions of women who suffer from untreated heart disease. She is alive and well now and has taken up walking as part of a healthier lifestyle. Even during Ramadan, you can catch her walking briskly around the block, Shalwar Kameez clad, her dupatta flapping in the evening breeze. She smiles more now than she did back then. She looks younger as well. Except for the nasty scar on her chest, you’d never know how close she came to death.
All their health-related issues could have been avoided if these women prioritized their health. They forgot, or perhaps were never told, that their health is an amanah. It is a trust given to them by God and they will be held accountable for how they managed it. Did they appreciate it? Did they do what was necessary to protect and maintain it? Did they build a lifestyle that was conducive to healthy bodies?
For my neighbor the idea of disrobing and having her breast handled by her doctor was too much to handle. Unless she experienced extreme pain, uncontrollable fever, or some other symptom that she couldn’t ease with home remedies, she was reluctant to see a doctor. For the Auntie from my mosque, she grew up in a time and place where respectable young women didn’t roam the streets unnecessarily. Only “westernized” young girls subjected themselves to the gaze of strangers while they “pranced about”. (Her words, not mine.)
Other women admit to not doing as much as they should to care for their bodies. Admittedly, they lack the same kind of external motivations that many non-Muslim or non-hijab wearing women have.
“I don’t pay much attention to clothes and fashion. Islam doesn’t really get into that, and if you wear hijab you really don’t focus on that as much,” says Aylah, a mother of three. “I know when I see the magazines and stuff, they aren’t marketing to me, so I don’t feel the same need to compete with that image.”
“You put on your abayah, check for stains and go. That was one of the things I loved about dressing more modestly. I was free from having to look a certain way all the time. I could gain a few pounds and it was okay. My pants wouldn’t cut off my circulation,” says Malika, a third-year student at the University of Maryland. “I think when you talk to hijabis about fitness you really have to focus on health, rather than beauty.”
The message that all these ladies would like to pass on is simple. Don’t neglect your health.
There is no tension between fitness and Islam. There is no reason why you can’t be physically active and modest. Increasingly, health conscious, hijab-wearing Muslim women are gaining popularity on social media. Both Nike and Women's Running Magazine have taken notice of the growing trend. Naturally, fitness minded, modern, Muslim women have been demanding a selection of modest active wear to help encourage others to join the movement. The demand has led to a proliferation of companies like Capsters, that design active wear with the modern Muslim woman in mind.
These ladies are learning from the mistakes of the past and building lifestyles that feature health and fitness as part of their daily routine. For them, staying active is as essential as daily acts of worship.
“If actions are judged by your intentions, then there’s no reason why my workout can’t be an act of worship if I’m doing it to take care of the things God has given me,” Malika argues.
As for my neighbor, she’s made major changes to her diet and lifestyle. She cooperates with her doctor and adheres to her treatment plan and is quick to tell anybody who’ll listen, “if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have wasted time being self-conscious.”
Safura Salam is a freelance writer, mother, and a part-time gym hero. She studied journalism at Penn State, and went on to work for the DNC before deciding to write full-time. Her work focuses on helping others fulfill their potential, tell their stories, and encouraging diverse voices in storytelling. You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SafuraWrites